Tuesday, August 9, 2011

English Premier League Season Preview, part 2

Newcastle: New beginnings, or same old same old?

More than any other club, the fortunes of Newcastle United depend on their summer signings: Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and this season's "like a new signing", Hatem Ben Arfa. The dressing room culture remains awful - as evidenced by Jose Enrique and Joey Barton's apocalyptic tweets - while one wonders if the Magpies have leaders enough to inspire focus among the troops. With Mike Ashley allegedly breaking promises left and right (the last of which were to extend Kevin Nolan's contract and to re-invest all of the ₤35 million they got for Andy Carroll), it seems another troubled season on Tyneside which could see them finish in the top half or sixteenth.

Norwich: Are they already preparing for life back in the Championship?
Paul Lambert and the key Wes Hoolahan
Paul Lambert has brought in several youngsters - Anthony Pilkington, Elliott Bennett and James Vaughan - for significant monies and is banking on their exuberance and pace for a successful season. Or a double-dip into the Championship a la West Brom and the promise of a stronger resultant outfit. While the head says the Canaries will mimic Blackpool's 2011 likeability, it also says they'll probably also do well early and later slide into relegation.

QPR: How important is Adel Taarabt?
How fake is Steven Harper's hair? (Look at the photos, not the crazy political stuff) How vital is Carey Price to a successful Canadiens season? Neil Warnock's Moroccan gem Taarabt has rammed home his importance to the Rs with every magical goal, every startling dribble move and each impressive assist. He scored or created 49.3% of QPR's goals last year and with only DJ Campbell, Kieron Dyer and Jay Bothroyd reinforcing the attackers, will need to reproduce his second-tier form on the big stage. If he can't do it - or is sold to PSG as rumoured - look at QPR like Warnock's 2006-07 brave-but-unsuccessful Sheffield United squad. Only with less talent.

Stoke City: Europa League or The Next Step?
Stoke City have made few signings despite their first European bow in a dog's age. Standing pat amidst a long-time lack of 15-goal strikers, perhaps the greatest question facing gaffer Tony Pulis is whether they can compete on both home and Continental fronts. With sound investment they could push for a 7-10 EPL finish and consequent Europa League qualification but to do so with a small squad could jeopardise their chances of making continental noise this year. Plus, there's no guarantee they could achieve such a high finish, so fans should encourage Tony to mimic Fulham and give the Europa League everything. With the scarcity of talent in the lower reaches of the division and a formidable home advantage, the Potters should avoid a relegation scrap.

courtesy: swanseacityafc.com
With recent England calls to his U-21 brethren Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and now Tom Cleverley, Scott Sinclair could be forgiven for feeling left out. Arguably more accomplished at club level than all but Wilshere, he's also at a much smaller team after failing to get regular chances at Chelsea. With pace to spare and clinical finishing skills, he could keep Stewart Downing, James Milner and Ashley Young looking over their shoulder on the left of England's midfield. It's unlikely, but if he plays well and moves to a bigger club or the Swans stay in the EPL, he may make his full Three Lions debut within a year or two. (Matt Jarvis has played for England for crying out loud! So have Francis Jeffers, Dave Nugent and Jay Bothroyd!)

Sunderland: Europe this season or next?
In a recent post, we argued Sunderland were pushing for Europe with the purchase of South Korean striker Ji Dong-Won, United veterans John O'Shea and Wes Brown, youngster Connor Wickham and last season's revelation Stephane Sessegnon. Craig Gardner could be the driving central force (who was supposed to be Darron Gibson) connecting an experienced backline with promising forwards. With this cast of characters, they should be aiming for a top-eight finish, perhaps replacing Fulham, Everton and Villa who finished above them last term. Bruce's squads are known for mid-season slumps, however, so this infusion of talent needs to stay "up" for the whole year.

Tottenham: Buying or selling?
With Chelsea - and, earlier, Man United - chasing wantaway midfielder Luka Modric and sums of 35 million bandied about, it's hard to see how Spurs' chairman Daniel Levy could resist. No matter how much 'Arry Redknapp may want him to. Modric is an excellent player who deserves Champions' League football, but also a classy guy who while wanting to leave won't kick up too much of a stink. If Spurs hold fast until January, they may be able to demand a premium (cf. Fernando Torres & Andy Carroll) if they look like missing the Champions' League next season.

West Brom: Is Shane Long worth ₤8 million?
courtesy: sportydesktops.com
Strikers jumping from Championship to Premiership for premium prices have a chequered record. Long's former Royal teammate Kevin Doyle has been a handful for Wolves but has hardly set the scoring charts alight. Dave Nugent? Pah. DJ Campbell did well for freewheeling Blackpool, but Michael Chopra failed for Sunderland. In this case, the Baggies urgently need a hitman and Long is young, quick and strong enough to do well at the Hawthorns. ₤8 million is a lot of money, but Roy Hodgson is working with a better lineup than during his first Fulham year and should have enough to avoid the relegation scrap. Long could be the player that moves WBA up a level to challenge for the top half, so is worth the cash.
(Long actually signed after publication for what's thought to be an initial 4.5 million with 3.5 million in add-ons).

Wigan: Will the beautiful football be worth it when you're in the Championship, Roberto Martinez?
Harsh, given Martinez is hamstrung by a small market, smaller attendances, a friendly-but-thrifty chairman and a spotty transfer record. For each of his seasons in Wigan, the Latics have been tipped for relegation but Martinez has kept them up playing attractive football. This year could be his undoing as Charles N'Zogbia has departed with only goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi to replace him. Twentieth position beckons and with relegation the club will lose Hugo Rodallega, Al-Habsi, the precocious James McCarthy and ... wait - who else that matters do Wigan have? The club Dave Whelan and Paul Jewell raised through four divisions could begin a slip back down.

Wolves: What's the over/under on the number of smiles Mick McCarthy will crack this season?
4.5. Mick nearly cracked a smile in the eighty-ninth minute at Old Trafford last year but wisely opted against it as United scored the winner only moments later. This was the story of the season for Wolves as they fought the good fight only to lose gut-wrenchingly many times. With his side faltering at the last hurdle so often, he couldn't be blamed for not smiling. Reinforced by Roger Johnson and the permanent signing of Jamie O'Hara, they're another team which is hard to pick: anything that's not relegation should be considered a win; above fifteenth would mark progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment